Punishment or Training?

You ever have God whack you upside the head?  Even more, have you ever thought that He didn’t love you anymore or that He was just punishing you, even unfairly punishing you?  I think that most of us from time to time wonder why God does what He does.  Even more, most of us can remember a time when we thought he was just plain angry with us and punishing us without remorse.

I had a little girl feel the same way in a different context last night.  I am an instructor at our kenpo studio; sometimes I teach kids’ classes and sometimes I help our head instructor teach.  Tuesday afternoons I teach the beginning/intermediate kids class, which is mostly yellow belts and mostly kids under 12.  One of them is an 8-year-old girl who has become quite dear to me.  She is a good kid who needs a lot of help to stay focused and have a good experience in kenpo.  She is also a bit sensitive and needs to be reminded a lot that she is special and loved.

Yesterday she got her feelings hurt.  Our instructor was not in the mood for the kids to slack off; I mean, it’s the first class of the year!  When he put them through their paces on some beginning stuff some of them didn’t do so hot, so he had them practice a little and then show the class their technique.  The ones who did well moved on to another exercise, but he made the ones who didn’t repeat that particular technique 100 times.  This girl was put in the “repeat 100 times” group.  She cried when she was told that her technique was weak and immediately said that she couldn’t do it 100 times.  She worked at it half-heartedly for awhile and then class ended with her pouting.

I wanted to help her get the lesson, so after class I had her come over to me and we talked awhile.  In her mind she had been punished.  Even worse she didn’t think that her technique was too bad!  She was upset because she thought that Mr. Robinson was punishing her and didn’t love her.  I know that this little girl thrives on being loved, so I challenged that assumption.  We ended up making a bet that she had to ask him if he loved her.  If he said that he didn’t I would do 100 pushups and she would get to wear my belt (currently green) to class the next two weeks.  If he said that he did she would go home and practice, then come back next week with a great attitude ready to train and learn.

You can guess what happened.  She asked Lawrence if he loved her, and he told her that he did.  He went on to say that the reason he was hard on her is because he cares for her!  The kids who he doesn’t love he allows to slack off.  They don’t care and will be there for only a short while, but the ones who have real potential he works with and challenges. So he makes it harder on them to train them so that they become excellent martial artists, not to punish them when they make mistakes.

After Lawrence left she and I talked about the difference between punishment and training (in a kenpo context).  The difference, to put it bluntly, is attitude.  The exercise he gave her would make her a better martial artist if she saw it as training, or it would be boring and frustrating if it was punishment.  If he said to do 100 pushups we could take it as a punishment for being weak or an opportunity to build strength.  The only difference, we agreed, was attitude. 

This is the same concept that the author of Hebrews teaches us about our spiritual lives in Hebrews 12:4-13.  Rather than punishing us when we mess up, God sometimes trains His children and disciplines them in ways that are difficult. 

You have not yet resisted 1bto the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,
NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; 
FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

I love verse 11.  “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”  When God disciplines me I tend to take it as punishment.  However, in reality He means it as training for times in my life that I can’t even see coming but will need to be stronger than I am now.  It may not be fun, and it may be painful, but even in the tough times I can rest in the sure knowledge of His love for me and acceptance of me as a son.  The discipline He brings into my life trains me to be a mature and adult son, whose life is trained to bear the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

In the end, our attitude about life matters.  Is what God is doing in your life punishment or training?  Is it for your good or harm?  What the author of Hebrews says is that if you are a Christian it is for your good.  That doesn’t mean that the consequences of our sin is always peachy, or that everything in life always comes up roses.  What it does mean is that even the worst situation in life can be used by God to train us to be the people that He wants us to be if we will only have an attitude that allows it.  If we see it as training in Him rather than punishment by Him it can work in our lives for great effect.

I told this young girl that if she worked on her technique this week and came to class next Tuesday with a great attitude to learn that she could still wear my belt. (this is a badge of honor in the training center, to wear an instructor’s belt;  It’s silly but it works as a motivator if not overused)  If she changed her attitude about the class she could and would be successful in class, and through that in life.

What about you?  Where is God training you that might appear like punishment?  Wherever you feel the hand of God in your life is training in righteousness if you will have a good attitude about it and accept it from Him.   Accept the discipline of God as an opportunity to become who He wants you to be, and watch that attitude of gratitude and submission to Him blossom into a harvest of righteousness in your life that brings more spiritual blessing than could have ever happened without it.  God works in our lives for our good (that’s Romans 8:28 for those keeping score at home) if we will only see it that way.

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